Nfld. & Labrador

Basketball fans stunned to learn that St. John's is losing its Edge

Fans react after the City of St. John's announced Thursday the St. John's Edge basketball team will not be returning to Mile One stadium in the fall.

Despite city's announcement, 'we have no intention of leaving St. John's right now,' says team co-owner

St. John's basketball fans were stunned last week by the news that the Edge will not be returning to Mile One Centre. (John Pike/CBC)

News that the St. John's Edge will not be returning to Mile One Centre took fans of the basketball team by surprise — and the announcement of a new team has not softened the blow.

Fan Alisa Cutler of St. John's — she and her son, both former basketball players, were regulars at Edge games — says she was stunned by last week's announcement.

"I was quite shocked to hear that," said Cutler. "It really just kind of came out of nowhere."

In a joint statement issued Thursday, the City of St. John's and St. John's Sports and Entertainment, the organization that runs Mile One, announced a deal had been struck to bring a new basketball team to the arena in September, effectively forcing the St. John's Edge out.

Cutler said the team being forced out is "a real, real shame."

It was something we could do as a family with our friends.- Alisa Cutler

 "I'm hoping that there's still a way to make it happen."

Tina Lynch Edwards says St. John's Edge games were always fun and energetic events. (Kyle Mooney/CBC)

'Absolutely blindsided'

Cutler wasn't the only one surprised by Thursday's announcement. 

Edge co-owner Rob Sabbagh said his group reached a deal with Deacon Sports and Entertainment, owner of the Newfoundland Growlers, to take over the basketball team.

"In late June, the Edge and the Growlers informed the mayor that we had a deal. Then lo and behold, right after we made that announcement, we got hit with this surprise announcement," he said. "It was really a surprise to all of us, because we thought we were making a lot of progress."

In a statement Friday, Deacon Sports and Entertainment said it was "absolutely blindsided" to learn St. John's Sports and Entertainment had been in talks with another team about a possible lease, when it had its own proposal in to take over the Edge franchise.

Sabbagh said the ownership group's relationship with arena management was deteriorating and it was getting harder to do business, which is why they'd come to a deal with Deacon Sports.

"We just thought it was best for the Edge, which we take a lot of pride in being the founders, and the fans, which have been ultra-supportive, thought maybe it was best for a clean break and give it to them," he said. "I thought we made a great deal for all involved."

Sabbagh said in December they were informed by arena management that they'd had interest from a different group looking to bring another basketball franchise to the arena.

"They stated that they looked at this as an opportunity to add dates to the arena, and it would complement the Edge and the Growlers," he said. "The actions they've taken now certainly contradict that."

Sabbagh said they informed SJSE in January that they weren't interested in giving up their exclusivity rights to basketball in Mile One but were willing to meet with the other basketball group to determine what the operation would look like.

"Maybe they wanted to play in the summer, maybe they wanted to play exhibitions. We had no idea. It was our responsibility to exercise all options," he said. "We said have them contact us. We will be more than welcome to have a conversation. That was six months ago. To this day, they never reached out to us, and lo and behold, this dealcame about."

In Thursday's announcement, the city said St. John's Sports and Entertainment and Edge management were "unable to come to terms on a new lease arrangement."

But Deacon's statement, which accused SJSE of "acting in bad faith" the proposed lease contained terms that were "unreasonably excessive," including a stipulation that would require leaseholders to take on multiple liabilities of Atlantic Sports Enterprises, the entity that owns the St. John's Edge, including one totalling $1 million.

Brand loyalty

Tina Lynch Edwards of Paradise regularly attended Edge games with her husband and two sons.

"Every time we went, it was packed," she said. "They were fun, they were energetic."

Having a new sporting event, and a new team to cheer for, was refreshing, Edwards said.

"Here in St. John's, there's a lot of hockey. There's a lot of other different activities. Basketball didn't seem to be a huge part of it," she said. "The Edge brought that to St. John's."

Alisa Cutler says she she's not interested in the American Basketball Association, which is the league in which the city's new basketball team plays. (Kyle Mooney/CBC)

Basketball ball games were also "decently priced," Edwards added, with tickets for a family of four often coming in under $100. 

She fears bringing in a new team will sever the connection fans already feel with the Edge.

"Are the loyal followers going to follow the other basketball team?" she said. "Because we're kind of loyal to the Edge."

Cutler agreed. She said she and her son aren't interested the American Basketball Association, a different league from the one the Edge played in.

"We won't go, we simply won't."

Sabbagh says there may be hope yet.

"[Mile One is] not the only arena in St. John's," he said. "We have no intention of leaving St. John's right now. We're going to explore all options that we have."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kyle Mooney is a journalist and musician living in St. John's.

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